Get ready to hear a lot about hitting the “pause button” on the state’s benchmarks for renewable energy and energy efficiency.
Ohio Senate Republicans are putting together a plan that would freeze the annual targets at current levels while a special panel studies the issue.
This approach – which will be fought by environmentalists and some businesses – is a change of course from a high-profile plan, Senate Bill 58, to rewrite the energy rules.
“The whole important issue has been kicked upstairs,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, meaning that legislative leaders will make the next move. “There are many ways to skin the cat.”
People who have been briefed on the proposal say it would freeze the benchmarks, along with other provisions, and will be introduced as soon as this week.
At issue is a 2008 energy law that says electricity utilities must meet an escalating series of benchmarks for “green” energy and energy efficiency.
By 2025, the companies would need to get 25 percent of their power from renewable or “advanced” sources, and they would have to help customers reduce electricity use by 22 percent through energy-efficiency improvements.
The 2014 benchmarks say the companies must get 2.5 percent of their electricity from renewable sources, including 0.12 percent that must come from solar power. The 2014 energy-efficiency standard is 4.2 percent.
If lawmakers take no action, the renewable and energy-efficiency benchmarks would each go up by 1 percentage point and the solar benchmark would rise by 0.03 percentage point next year.
John McClelland, spokesman for Senate President Keith Faber, R-Celina, would say only that Senate Republicans are continuing to work on the topic. “There are a number of options being discussed,” he said.
On one side are large utilities and business groups that say the requirements cost too much to meet. On the opposite side are other business groups, environmentalists and consumer advocates, who say that tinkering with the law will lead to dirtier air and other changes that contribute to higher costs.
Each side says its approach is best for jobs and the economy.
“A moratorium sounds like a no-harm, no-foul option while things get studied, but the reality is that there are a lot projects that are operating that rely on these standards,” said Ted Ford, CEO of Advanced Energy Economy Ohio, a trade group for green-energy companies. “You’re going to see a big impact on companies.”
He was speaking in general about the idea of a moratorium because he has not been briefed on the plan.
“How you define moratorium or freeze is incredibly important here,” he said. The key detail is whether the plan will call for an automatic return to the benchmarks at some point, he said.
Seitz has been holding hearings for the past year on his bill, which calls for far-reaching revisions to the law. He abruptly canceled a committee vote in December, which led to speculation that it did not have the votes to pass.
He is not involved with drafting the new plan and had no details about it. He has long argued that the 2008 law is outdated because of dramatic changes in the energy economy.
“We cannot, like an ostrich, ignore a changed landscape,” he said.
FirstEnergy, the Akron-based utility, has been a leading supporter of reining in the energy benchmarks. Asked about this upcoming plan, spokesman Mark Durbin said this:
“We just continue to work with legislators on this issue.”
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